5-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 5-11 pm Friday-Saturday. $$$ Expensive.
[ITALIAN] Although the service at a recent visit came off as rather odd (the unsolicited arrival of a free dessert felt more like après-emptive strike than a random act of generosity—but, hey, who's complaining about free panna cotta?), neither that nor the tepid decor should deter diners from repeat returns to Caffe Mingo. Such tedium fades into the background when you're busy savoring a generous antipasti plate, a well-priced bottle of wine and a fine Portland summer evening shining through the large windows. You'd think that Caffe Mingo's froufrou Nob Hill location would translate into cloyingly delicate, overthought dishes, but in fact, the entrees here are solid touchstones layered with subtle underlying strata: A ravioli just this side of al dente, housing fresh rosemary, goat cheese and a salty kick of pancetta, for instance, is served with little fanfare but plenty of interlocking flavors. And of course there's the signature dish, the penne with espresso-and-Chianti-braised beef. My god, how long do they work this beef to get it so tender? You'll have plenty of time to mull that question and others as you wait in the popular spot's ever-present line, but that just gives the meat a little extra espresso-soaking time. JONANNA WIDNER.
Ideal meal: The penne with Chianti-and-espresso-braised beef, hands down.
Best deal: Er…free dessert?